Prayer is an important part of a person’s religious and faith life. Prayer takes many forms, and we each utilize it in different ways. I have to admit that my favorite and most-used form is that of petition. I am frequently bringing various problems and difficulties to God’s attention, and indicating with great clarity what it is exactly that He should bring about—and on my time schedule, of course.
Seriously, though, prayer is an important word in the lives of most people who profess to have faith, but it is a word with a wide variety of meanings. In general, it is the way we manifest in our own personal lives how we do or want to relate to the God that we worship. Catholics have the reputation, not completely deserved, as praying constantly from formulas of prayer, such as the Lord’s Prayer, the Rosary, the Apostle’s Creed, and various types of novenas. This does not mean that Catholics do not also pray in a completely ad-libbed manner; it’s just that when they come together, there is a rich tradition of common prayer. Whether it’s 200 or 200,000 Catholics simultaneously uniting their voices in prayer, in my opinion that’s a beautiful manifestation of shared faith.
There are four basic forms of prayer: adoration, petition, thanksgiving and contrition. What must never be forgotten and always stressed is that prayer is conversation with God. Conversation! That conversation must be natural from the point of view of the person that is doing the praying. This opens up the need for personal, non-memorized prayer. I believe the only advantage of memorized prayer is making it easy to pray aloud together. We tend to get into a format that we’re comfortable with, and use it repeatedly. Instead, I think we should struggle to avoid that, and get back to the concept of an ongoing, personal conversation with our Lord.
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Photo: M. Poloskey
In a few more weeks, the Roman Catholic Church will have a new leader. He will be the 266th successor of St. Peter. He will assume an awesome task. The burdens of his office will not simply be the complexities of the Universal Church operating in virtually every country in the world and having a billion, two hundred million members. He will find a Church that in many ways is experiencing serious internal conflict, dogmatically and structurally.
It would be wonderful if the first day that the pope stepped into office, assumed the tiara, that he would have a really first-rate staff around him but sadly the Curia itself has been badly divided and in conflict and one of the first things that the new pope will have to do is bring order and efficiency to the Roman Curia. I believe with all my heart that the pope will enjoy the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Such guidance, of course, relates to the central doctrines of the Church, the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. There is no real connection between that divine gift and day-to-day administrative effectiveness. That is a very earthy skill and not every pope has had it.
Seriously, let’s do pray for the man who is among us now but in a few weeks will see his life changed dramatically.
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A large gang of carpenters and laborers are still working hard endeavoring to get the capitol grounds in Washington, D.C. in shape in order to enable the government to continue to do routine business. The hotels are no longer crowded, tons of trash has been removed and getting around the city is no more difficult than usual. The inauguration was both fun and expensive but now the president and the Congress must confront the large number of serious problems, conflicted situations, economic peril at home as well as military and terrorist peril abroad.
The most immediate issue facing the president, and you and I are facing it as well, is the need to deal with multiple fiscal issues within the next few months. The automatic budget cuts raise their head again in early March. The debt ceiling has come back to life. The absence for a federal budget adds to the bitterness between the White House and the Republican controlled House of Representatives. Maybe we should rename the Arab Spring. I think it is more like an Arab earthquake with dangerous and tragic situations continuing in Syria, Egypt and now Algeria. Our relations with Russia and China are less than ideal. All in all, it is a difficult and complex time in American history.
Shouldn’t we all be glad that there is always somebody out there who wants to be the president? Let’s pray for that man and let’s pray for our country.
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For many years I have been hearing about the Sant’Egidio Community in Rome. I am embarrassed to say that I don’t know whether or not it is actually a parish or simply a gathering of faith-filled people with a common commitment to prayer, evangelization and solidarity. This community has been so successful in making the peaceful work of Jesus of Nazareth that they have gradually spread across the world. They work together on projects of reconciliation between peoples and organizations. They generate a tremendous amount of service and assistance to people in need, especially the poorest of the poor, and the other day I just found out that they brought peace to an African nation 20 years ago. I am referring to Mozambique situated on the east coast of Africa.
For many years Mozambique had been torn by civil war, famine and suffering. The Community of Sant’Egidio knew that neither the nation nor the Church would ever prosper until peace broke in. They approached the two divisive groups and began a program of dialogue and discussion. Sant’Egidio facilitated the first meeting between the two opposing sides and the first move to attempt to find the common ground operating under the principal of Pope John XXIII, “Leave aside what divides and start working on what unites.” The two sides then turned to Sant’Egidio requesting that it, as a well-respected neutral partner, handle the second round of negotiations. Those negotiations would go on for many months but finally a peace agreement was reached in Rome in 1992. That peace agreement has held beautifully now for twenty years and other African nations, also torn by internal conflicts within the country, are beginning to look at what is called “the Sant’Egidio Method” to end fighting, find common ground and begin to talk. It is crucial, however, that this third level conversation always be chaired and guided by an entity that everyone involved trusts. Sometimes that is hard to do in Africa.
The nation of Burundi found itself in a situation similar to that which Mozambique faced in the early 1990’s. They decided to take the Sant’Egidio Method and real progress has been made there. A signed agreement leave important problems unsettled but it is very real progress. The same is true in other African nations such as Niger and Guinea. Here the small group of dedicated, faith-filled laypeople reach outside their own church structures to bring peace to other parts of the world. It is a marvelous example of what Christians with faith, vision and the ability to negotiate can bring into the lives of nations fraught by war. May God bless Sant’Egidio.
I was happy to learn that the Community of Sant’Egidio has now been set up in the United States. It was first established in New York City in 1998 and since then has developed programs in Washington, South Bend, Boston, the Twin Cities and Manchester. I will be endeavoring to get more information on this subject immediately after the first of the year.
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The great State of Texas has many wonderful advantages. One of the first and most obvious is that of geography. It sits in the middle of North America joining together the Upper Midwest, the Southwest, the Old South and Northern Mexico. These bordering areas influence Texas is two ways; they pour their own unique qualities into the state and they draw Texas out into those areas. South Texas is very much like Mexico. El Paso has more in common with Los Angeles than it does with Beaumont. Dallas is really in the Midwest whether it admits it or not. Finally, East Texas is really the western edge of the Old South (read Confederacy!).
While that geography is all very interesting, it also means there is a word that Texans don’t like to think about – drought. The great state is currently facing the worst drought in its history. Crops are failing. Lakes are drying up. Cities are desperately making plans to provide adequate water to their citizens as the future grows more questionable in terms of the availability of that water.
I am always happy to see our public leaders busily engaged in trying to deal with the water issue and to date they have done a rather good job. There are questions about the future, however, and periodically some serious group starts talking about piping water from the Mississippi River into Texas. I don’t know if the states in-between think that this is a good idea or not but it is certainly being talked about.
As worried as we Texans are about the availability of water for our cities and farms, it is obvious that the whole world is beginning to think about the water issue and what we are going to do as our population surges and weather changes restricts rainfall. I believe that God will provide but I think we ought to be talking to him about the schedule.
Let’s keep thinking, let’s keep working, let’s keep trying…and let’s keep praying as well. Today’s rain is a start.
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“Goodbye. Be sure to study hard.”
Every morning all across the country millions of parents send their small children off to elementary school. The parents may drive them. They may go by bus. They may be close enough to walk. Whatever the case, the parents relax and know that their children are well cared for and will be home in the middle of the afternoon when they return to their routine established for the latter part of the day.
That routine is so common, so well established that the vast majority of parents hardly give it a thought. “Hi Billie…Here is a cup of hot chocolate. What did you learn today?”
Last week, however, that routine was tragically, catastrophically interrupted for several dozen families. In addition, millions of other families, as President Obama said, hold their children more tightly as they return from school. Millions of words have already been written about the agonizing, horrifying event in Newtown and I would not foolishly attempt to add anything to the conversation.
There is no meaning in this! It is just raw tragedy and humans have learned to live through and survive tragedy since Adam and Eve got on the wrong side of their Creator. However, last Friday’s situation grabs at the heartstrings of everyone. My guess is that more than half of the country’s population, and I certainly hope that I am right, actually broke out into tears as they received the agonizing information (you can’t call that news). We cry and cry, some crying hysterically. We try to pull meaning out of it but no meaning is there. Eventually our sobbing settles down and we attempt to move forward all the while holding on to each other in a desperate hope that the whole thing is a bad dream. It was not a bad dream!
Let’s pray together for all the families whose lives have been upended by this situation. Let’s pray in thanksgiving for all of us who live our lives rather safely on a day by day basis. Finally, let’s pray that our country will attempt to confront a terribly destructive situation that other developed nations do not seem to experience to the extent that the United States of America does. Should we begin to question ourselves?
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I have great love for the Catholic Church but because so many of its members are human beings, there are always signs of blemish and failure within the community and in the relationship between the community and the larger society. Any reasonable person takes that fact for granted. However, there are so many wonderful aspects of the Church that I like to periodically sit down and discuss one or the other of them. Today, I would like to mention the fact that concern for others, especially the weaker and most vulnerable members of our society, is a paramount obligation of the followers of Jesus.
The Good Samaritan is not a cute story from the New Testament. It is a job description for people who are baptized into the Church and want to know and practice their faith. Prayer is tremendously important. One of the reasons that God brought us into existence is to worship Him, to reflect His infinite glory. Knowledge of the faith is a great gift and everyone should pursue that knowledge to the extent that they are able. However, those two realities are not enough to be a truly faithful follower of Jesus.
After Jesus finished the parable of the Good Samaritan, it was a simple and direct command that reaches across the centuries and touches each and every one of us.
“Go thou and do likewise!”
That is an order, my friends. We are to pick up the people who are beaten by life, people who have been robbed by injustice, people who are weak and unable to take care of themselves. I am so proud of the fact that the Church does an extraordinarily good job in this area. I realize, of course, that every Christian church, in fact all good humans, share in this responsibility, but I do think that it is possible that the Catholic Church has capitalized on the concept to a greater extent than others. We have covered the world with clinics, hospitals, schools for the poor, educational programs and struggles on behalf of freedom. It is a beautiful sight and I am proud. I only wish that the wonderful efforts that we have undertaken in these areas could be expanded evermore.
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Catholicism sees itself as an enormous family of faith. I mentioned in an earlier blog that one of the things that I love about day-to-day Catholicism is our firm belief in the Communion of Saints; that those of us here on earth, and those who have gone before us and are with God, can be united by prayer and the saints assist us by their intercession before the throne of God, and by the example that they had given to us while they were among us. Through this firm belief about an interaction between heaven and earth, there has developed a secondary belief or practice; namely, that saints with whom we feel a special relationship, either because they are our patron or they did the same type of work that we did, are concerned about and respond to our requests that they join their prayers to ours as we worship the infinite God. St. Thomas More is the patron of lawyers. St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine are patrons of scholars. Black teenagers have St. Charles Lwanga. It is interesting – it is almost like having a lobbyist in heaven!
The above facts are going to affect the way the liturgy manifests itself in the next few months. Pentecost and several of the major Christological feasts are behind us and we are going into that second half of the year, which simply passes by the rather bland title, “Ordinary Time.” We say it is ordinary because the exciting seasons that centered on the coming of Jesus, his saving work, his resurrection and return to his heavenly Father are all behind us. The mood of these seasons will not appear again until December. However, the Church doesn’t want us to fall asleep so it scatters into the liturgy the lives of wonderful men and women who have gone before us and the Church asks us to look at them, to use their example, to attempt to walk in their footsteps the way that they walked in the footsteps of Jesus, and to live lives that are based on faith.
A joint feast, marking two of the most extraordinarily lives, is soon coming up. I am talking about the Feasts of Sts. Peter and Paul, which we will celebrate on June 29th.
Peter and Paul – the Catholic Church always puts them together. They are the basic rocks, bricks, slabs, foundation on which the Church of the first century would be built. Peter would work in the Jerusalem area and then move on to Rome while Paul would cover a great deal of the eastern half of the Mediterranean. They laid a marvelous foundation and they brought the message of Jesus to the people of that period and ultimately both of them would die for their faith in Jesus Christ. Paul would be decapitated and, tradition has it, that Peter would be executed upside down, as he did not feel worthy to die in the same way as his Lord.
How blessed we were to have them among us and how much we need men and women today to imitate their burning desire to tell the world the joyous news of Jesus of Nazareth.
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What is all that yelling about? It is caused by that group of elementary school kids who have just broken free of the confines of daily classes. They take their shoes off and those blessed to be able to do so are headed out to go swimming and fishing or to play ball. I hope that they have a wonderful three months before the grind starts up again.
There are two other groups of graduates as well. Let’s take a look at them. See that gang of 18 year olds? They are not so exuberant. I am talking about those who just graduated from high school and who are finding that their efforts to get into the college of their choice are difficult indeed. Many of them are not laughing. Look beyond them and you can see a second group that is not laughing. They have just graduated from college. They have accomplished a great deal and should be celebrating. They have 16 years of education behind them but the next step, meaningful employment in terms of their education and training, is not all that certain.
Congratulations to all three groups but the two latter groups deserve our prayers, encouragement and help
May God Continue to Bless the 2012 Graduates!
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Today is a holiday- Memorial Day.
Arlington National Cemetery
There will be a lot of picnics and one-day outings, and there is nothing wrong with that. However, every one of us should take serious time today to be thoughtful and prayerful about the fact that we have so much for which to be thankful, so much to remember. That thankfulness and remembrance is to center on the fact that so many of our fellow Americans over the last two hundred years have given their lives in order that our country might be free, and that this freedom and prosperity could be maintained in a difficult world that has constantly threatened it.
The facts can be laid out on the table, the figures can be totaled out but there is no way that they can begin to grasp the reality that is behind these numbers. During the first one hundred years of our existence, 683,000 Americans lost their lives with the Civil War counting for 623,000 of that total (91%). The next one hundred years, a further 626,000 Americans died through two world wars and several more regional conflicts. Of this latter figure, World War II represented 65% of that total.
Let’s look behind those cold statistics. For every one of those digits, there are heartbroken parents, crushed fiancées, brokenhearted wives and children by the millions. Yes, we must remember and we must give thanks for their generosity. However, while we are giving thanks, we should pray fervently and work within the confines of our own situation in life to do whatever we can to lessen the threat of war. In some ways, we find ourselves in a unique moment of history. We have developed structures that improve communication between countries and lessen the type of resolving conflicts with guns and bombs, but at the same time we do have weapons of mass destruction that if we don’t handle ourselves rationally, all of the losses of our wars will seem minor compared to what could possibly happen. Remember? Yes, indeed remember! But also pray – pray – pray.
For an excellent book describing the proximity of our peril, try reading How the End Begins by Ron Rosenbaum. This book thoughtfully describes what the author sees as a road to an approaching nuclear war.
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